Pan Ku's celebrated and influential History of the Former Han has been a model for dynastic history since its appearance in the first century A.D. The narrative is rich in detail and characterized by purity and economy of style. Covering the period from 206 B.C. to A.D. 23, the work consists of annals, chronological tables, treatises, and biographies, the last of which often include excepts from writings by the subjects of the biographies. Burton Watson has translated ten chapters from the biography section, including the lives of imperial princes, generals, officials, and some lesser figures: a court jester, wandering knights, court ladies, and concubines. All the chapters have been selected for their literary interest and their influence on Chinese literature and culture.
Burton Watson is one of the world's best-known translators from the Chinese and Japanese. His translations include The Lotus Sutra, The Vimalakirti Sutra, Ryokan: Zen Monk-Poet of Japan, Saigyo: Poems of a Mountain Home, and The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century, all published by Columbia.